Wake hearing draws more criticism of proposal to rescind Dix lease

ccampbell@newsobserver.comApril 8, 2013 

ROSERUN1.NE.021013.TI

The runners race 5K at Dorothea Dix Campus in Raleigh during the 33rd annual Run for the Roses Sunday, February 10, 2013. The N.C. Roadrunners Club's run/walk is one of the oldest road races in the area.

TAKAAKI IWABU — tiwabu@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Hunt faces ire

    Republican Sen. Neal Hunt got criticism Monday from an opponent of his bills to reshape Wake school board elections and put county commissioners in charge of school construction.

    Hunt interrupted school volunteer Anne Sherron when she pointed out that he had missed the first 25 speakers at an earlier public hearing. “I think it would be appropriate for them to stick to the issue,” he said.

    Hunt later asked Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat who led the meeting, for time to respond to speakers who blasted his bills. Stein asked him to wait until the end of the hearing, but by the time speeches wrapped up 30 minutes later, Hunt had left the room.

    Hunt said he had to leave early for an important meeting, but he wanted to correct misinformation about his legislation. “School boards will retain school building maintenance responsibilities,” he said.

— More than 20 speakers voiced their opposition Monday to several Republican-sponsored bills under consideration at the legislature, including efforts to revoke Raleigh’s lease of the Dorothea Dix campus and a measure reshaping school board elections.

The Wake County legislative delegation’s meeting attracted less than half the crowd of a hearing two weeks ago. Monday’s event was intended for those who didn’t get time to speak on March 25.

Many of the speakers Monday mentioned several bills they oppose, and some offered thoughts on the current legislature as a whole. Phil Poe of Raleigh pointed to the General Assembly’s 23 percent approval rating in a recent poll.

“I think these numbers are sad and discouraging,” Poe said. “It seems too many of our legislators are totally indifferent to these polling numbers, when in fact they’re a measurement of your performance. ... You can do better – you must do better.”

Many of those legislators weren’t there to hear the criticism. Nearly half of Wake’s 16-member delegation – Democrats and Republicans – was absent for part or all of the meeting. The missing lawmakers included Democratic Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh and Republican Reps. Marilyn Avila of Raleigh and Paul Stam of Apex. Avila co-sponsored the bill to revoke Raleigh’s lease on the Dorothea Dix property.

Here’s a sampling of the hot topics from Monday’s hearing:

Revoking the lease for the Dorothea Dix park: Backers of the park plan faced off with members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI’s Wake County chapter supports the bill that would renegotiate Raleigh’s park lease at “fair market value” and dedicate the money to mental health, while keeping land for state Department of Health and Human Services offices.

NAMI board member Bill Stanley said the property’s value should always go to mental health. “There is a history of North Carolina trust funds being raided to fund other government programs,” Stanley said. “Rather than a trust fund, I would like to see something concrete” like a small hospital or clinic.

Park supporters argued that the bill isn’t about fixing mental health. “We know that’s not the case,” said Will Hooker, a Raleigh landscape architect and N.C. State University professor. “The real reason for this is that developers want to build condominiums on the Dix property.”

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the state must uphold the lease signed in December. “I just came to say one thing, and that is ‘honor your commitments’,” McFarlane said. “If the citizens cannot trust the leaders of North Carolina to keep their word, it’s a sad day for the state, and your honor is on the line.”

The Dix bill has been approved by the Senate and will go before the House judiciary committee in the coming weeks.

School board elections and construction authority: Other speakers were concerned about bills that would put county commissioners in charge of school construction and reshape Wake County school board elections. Both bills have been awaiting hearings from Senate committees for nearly a month.

Retired Greensboro schools superintendent John Eberhart said the elections bill “gerrymanders districts with little concern for natural boundaries. ... Some may go as long as six years without voting on school board representation.”

Vann Langston added that the bills are “solving a problem that citizens have not said is a problem.”

Curbing housing rules: Several speakers blasted a bill that would limit local governments’ ability to set design standards for residential housing, saying the measure interferes with local governance.

But Spears Mullen, a Raleigh builder, said he supports the measure. “I don’t feel it’s the business of cities to control what people do on private property,” Mullen said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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